Feast of Saint John, Apostle and evangelist
Christ and St Mary Magdalene at the Tomb, by Rembrandt
Reading 1 1 JN 1:1-4
What was from the beginning,
what we have heard,
what we have seen with our eyes,
what we looked upon
and touched with our hands
concerns the Word of life—
for the life was made visible;
we have seen it and testify to it
and proclaim to you the eternal life
that was with the Father and was made visible to us—
what we have seen and heard
we proclaim now to you,
so that you too may have fellowship with us;
for our fellowship is with the Father
and with his Son, Jesus Christ.
We are writing this so that our joy may be complete.
Responsorial Psalm PS 97:1-2, 5-6, 11-12
The LORD is king; let the earth rejoice;
let the many isles be glad.
Clouds and darkness are around him,
justice and judgment are the foundation of his throne.
R. Rejoice in the Lord, you just!
The mountains melt like wax before the LORD,
before the LORD of all the earth.
The heavens proclaim his justice,
and all peoples see his glory.
R. Rejoice in the Lord, you just!
Light dawns for the just;
and gladness, for the upright of heart.
Be glad in the LORD, you just,
and give thanks to his holy name.
R. Rejoice in the Lord, you just!
Alleluia – See Te Deum
We praise you, O God,
we acclaim you as Lord;
the glorious company of Apostles praise you.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
John & Peter Running to the Tomb, by Eugene Burnand
Gospel JN 20:1A AND 2-8
On the first day of the week,
Mary Magdalene ran and went to Simon Peter
and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them,
“They have taken the Lord from the tomb,
and we do not know where they put him.”
So Peter and the other disciple went out and came to the tomb.
They both ran, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter
and arrived at the tomb first;
he bent down and saw the burial cloths there, but did not go in.
When Simon Peter arrived after him,
he went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths there,
and the cloth that had covered his head,
not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place.
Then the other disciple also went in,
the one who had arrived at the tomb first,
and he saw and believed.
Two days ago we celebrated the birth of Christ. Today, we are at the tomb. Life is short.One moment we are here, the next we are gone. We follow the Lord from birth to death, but do we follow the Lord in accepting his Father’s Will? I always pray to the Lord for the grace to never waste a second in second guessing his love for me.
How do we know God? We know him because we know Jesus. We know what God thinks because we know what Jesus thinks, and we know what God wants because we know what Christ wants from us.“What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we looked upon and touched with our hands concerns the Word of life, for the life was made visible” (1Jn 1:1-2).
We know God intimately because we intimately know Christ .
“They both ran, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter and arrived at the tomb first.” Why is it so important for St. John to tell us that he ran faster than Peter, and that he waited for Peter to enter the tomb first? Why is all of this so important? I believe John is telling us that his faith was stronger than Peter’s. John had no doubts. He ran to the tomb like a child running to his gifts. He ran with a sense of urgency, but confidently expecting the unimaginable. John ran knowing what he would not find. He waited for Peter because he knew the answer. The Lord is not here. He is Risen.
Let us run our lives like St. John: confident, excited and courageous in knowing that the Lord keeps his promises always. He did not come into the world to abandon or betray us. No. He came into the world to meet us. Let us run to the Lord with great faith in knowing what to expect and what to find: his promises fulfilled; His life fulfilled through mine.
Commentary on John 20:1a, 2-8 From Living Space
The Gospel tells us that John was the brother of James and the son of Zebedee. He and his brother were among the first to be called (together with Peter and Andrew) by Jesus. John, with Peter and James, were particularly close to Jesus and were privileged to experience the Transfiguration, the raising of the daughter of Jairus and the agony in the garden.
To John also is attributed the authorship of the Gospel which bears his name as well as the Book of Revelation (Apocalypse) and three Letters (John 1,2 and 3). He is often identified as the “beloved disciple”, who is only mentioned in the Gospel of John. Tradition says that John died a natural death at a great age in Ephesus (on the west coast of modern Turkey).
Today’s Gospel describes the scene where Peter and the “beloved disciple” rush to the tomb of Jesus after being told by Mary Magdalen that the body is no longer there. Although the “beloved disciple” got there first, he deferred to Peter who went in first and saw the burial cloths. One of them – the piece that was wrapped around the face – was rolled up in a separate place. When the “beloved disciple” went in, “he saw and he believed.” In other words, he understood the significance of the cloth and he knew that his Lord had risen.
Later, the Risen Jesus will say to Thomas, “Bless are those who have not seen and have learnt to believe.” Here the disciple did not see the physical Jesus. Nevertheless, on the basis of what he did see, he believed.
The question is: what exactly did he see? What he saw was that the cloth which had covered Jesus’ head was not with the rest of the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place. Why should that trigger his conviction that the Lord had risen? The book of Exodus (chapter 34) describes how Moses, after coming down from the mountain and conversing with God, was so radiant with light that people were afraid to approach him. And so, he put a veil to cover his face. But “whenever Moses entered the presence of the Lord to converse with him, he removed the veil until he came out again. On coming out, he would tell the Israelites all that had been commanded. Then the Israelites would see that the skin of Moses’ face was radiant; so he would again put the veil over his face until he went in to converse with the Lord” (Exod 34:34-35).
Now some believe that the word ‘veil’ used in John is a Greek translation of the word in Hebrew used about Moses. In other words, the veil covering the face of the dead Jesus is now no longer needed because he has gone face to face with his Father. This veil was the humanity of Jesus which enabled us to look at our God. Jesus now has a new human body – his Church. And that was what led to the “beloved disciple’s” conviction that his Master had risen to new life.
For some commentators, the “beloved disciple” is not actually John but represents any person who has totally committed himself or herself to the following of Jesus, anyone who deeply believes and anyone who is passionately fond of Jesus. At times, as in today’s Gospel, the faith of the “beloved disciple” is shown as surpassing that of Peter. While the disciples we know of had fled after the arrest of Christ, it is the “beloved disciple” who stands with the Mother of Jesus at the foot of the cross.
Nevertheless, John as the author of the Fourth Gospel and the three letters attributed to his name, reveals a depth of faith and insight into the meaning of Christ’s life, death and resurrection that borders on the mystical and clearly reveals a faith of extraordinary depth. It is a faith and insight we can pray to have for ourselves.
Lectio Divina from the Carmelites
• Today’s Gospel presents to us the passage of the Gospel of John which speaks about the Beloved Disciple. Probably, this text was chosen to read and to meditate on it today, feast of Saint John the Evangelist, for the immediate identification that we all make of the beloved disciple with the apostle John. But the strange thing is that in no passage of the Gospel of John it is said that the beloved disciple is John. But then, from the most remote times of the Church, it has always be insisted upon in identifying both of these. This is why, in insisting on the similarity between the two, we run the risk of losing a very important aspect of the message of the Gospel in regard to the beloved disciple.
• In the Gospel of John, the beloved disciple represents the new community which is born around Jesus. We find the Beloved Disciple at the foot of the Cross, together with Mary, the mother of Jesus (Jn 19, 26). Mary represents the People of the Old Covenant. At the end of the first century, the time in which the final redaction of the Gospel of John was compiled, there was a growing conflict between the Synagogue and the Church. Some Christians wanted to abandon the Old Testament and remain or keep only the New Testament. At the foot of the Cross, Jesus says: “Woman, behold your son!” and to the Beloved Disciple: “Son, behold your mother!” And both must remain together as mother and son. To separate the Old Testament from the New one, in that time was what we would call today separation between faith (NT) and life (OT).
• In the Gospel today, Peter and the Beloved Disciple, informed by the witness of Mary Magdalene, ran together toward the Holy Sepulchre. The young one runs faster than the elderly one and reaches the tomb first. He looks inside the tomb, observes everything, but does not enter. He allows Peter to enter first. Here is indicated the way in which the Gospel describes the reaction of the two men before what both of them see: “He entered and saw the linen clothes lying on the ground, and also the cloth that had been over his head; this was not with the linen clothes but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple who had reached the tomb first also went in, he saw and he believed”. Both of them saw the same thing, but this is said only of the Beloved Disciple that he believed: “Then the other disciple who had reached the tomb first also went in, he saw and he believed”. Why? Is it that Peter did not believe?
• The Beloved Disciple looks, sees in a different way, he perceives more than the others. He has a loving look which perceives the presence of the novelty of Jesus. The morning after that night of working, looking for fish and, then the miraculous catch of fish, it is he, the beloved disciple who perceives the presence of Jesus and says: “It is the Lord!” (Jn 21, 7).
On that occasion, Peter informed by the affirmation of the Beloved Disciple, also recognizes and begins to understand. Peter learns from the Beloved Disciple. Then Jesus asks three times: “Peter, do you love me?” (Jn 21, 15.16.17). Three times Peter answers: “You know that I love you!” After the third time, Jesus entrusts the flock to the care of Peter, and in that moment Peter also becomes a “Beloved Disciple”.
• All of us who believe in Jesus are today Beloved Disciples. Do I have the same loving look to perceive the presence of God and to believe in his Resurrection?
• To separate the Old Testament from the New one is the same thing as to separate Faith and Life. How do I do and live this today?
The mountains melt like wax,
before the Lord of all the earth.
The heavens proclaim his saving justice,
all nations see his glory. (Ps 97,5-6)
For most Catholics and Christians, the divinity of Jesus is never questioned. We have been brought up with faith in Christ as the Son of God, our Saviour, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. Hence, we cannot understand why the world cannot accept Jesus as divine. Today, many people including Christians doubt the divinity of Jesus. Influenced by secularism, materialism, rationalism and empiricism, they would not accept anything that cannot be proven logically or empirically. Many can accept Jesus as a good man and even as a prophet, but not as God.
What is at stake in today’s first reading is the reality of Jesus’ incarnation. Many, Catholics included, have difficulty in believing that Jesus is truly man. Our faith in Jesus as the Son of God often reduces our appreciation of the full humanity of Jesus. The letter to the Hebrews makes it clear that Jesus was a man in every way except that He did not sin. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.” (Heb 4:15) St John in no uncertain terms said, “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” (Jn 1:14)
Faith in Jesus’ divinity is not only paramount to our faith but also in His humanity. The complete divinity or humanity in the person of Jesus must be affirmed without compromise, without mixture, without separation and without reduction. This is what the doctrine of the Incarnation is proclaiming; that in the human person of Jesus, the full divinity of God was present. So Jesus was truly man and truly God, one person and yet distinct and inseparable. If this truth is not consistently upheld, it would put the doctrine of salvation in Christ in question. If Christ were not divine, then it means we are not saved by His death and resurrection. Unless, Christ was truly divine, His death on the cross would not be a true manifestation of God’s unconditional and total mercy. Then we can doubt whether God really identifies with us, understands our pain and misery. Only because of His death on the cross, do we know that God is with us in every situation. He is the Emmanuel who continues to feel with us. That is why He is the throne of mercy. “Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Heb 4:16) We must therefore with equal faith proclaim that Christ is truly God and truly man.
But how can we come to this faith if not through the witness of the Church and our contemplation? In the gospel, we see how Mary needed the Church to confirm what she saw. “On the first day of the week Mary of Magdala came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved. ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb’ she said ‘and we don’t know where they have put him.’” She observed the fact but she needed the authority of the Church to confirm that it was indeed the case. And so, we have Peter representing the Church coming to the scene and vouching that it was as Mary had said. “Simon Peter who was following now came up, went right into the tomb, saw the linen cloths on the ground, and also the cloth that had been over his head; this was not with the linen cloths but rolled up in a place by itself.”
But until now, the fact has not yet been given an interpretation. This shows the diligence of the Church when it comes to making conclusions and judgement of miraculous events, especially apparitions and healing miracles. Indeed, in most instances, the Church is slow to make pronouncements unless she is certain that it is a divine intervention. This calls for careful discernment as declaring something miraculous is not a small matter. Hence, those who doubt the witness of the Church and trust in their own witness, their own “seeing” and personal “interpretation” need to imitate Mary in allowing the Church to make her judgement on behalf of us all as they have the authority from Christ and the competency to do so.
Secondly, we learn from Mary and Peter that a historical fact or a historical event makes no sense and has no real impact on our lives unless interpreted. This is true in every area of our daily life. We live by symbols more than the historical event itself. The giving of gifts is more than just the reception of a gift but the meaning and significance of being given the gift by the giver. Every gift signifies something about the giver’s intention and sentiments and how the recipient is loved and understood by the giver. So too, the empty tomb does not say very much except that the body of Jesus was not there. Even the linen cloth being rolled up nicely does not say much. It only raises questions and speculation but it is not a proof of Jesus’ resurrection. Someone must offer an interpretation. Instead of feeling elated, they were puzzled. Could it be that the body was stolen? There could be many reasons for the missing body.
Thirdly, if we act like Mary out of pure sentimentalism, we might not go very far in arriving at the meaning and the truth of the event. It was great that Mary was deeply attached to Jesus and loved Him entirely. But that love and her tears made her blind and unable to see the reality. She was still living in the past. She was still thinking of Jesus of Nazareth. She was still adoring the humanity of Jesus and failed to arrive at the divinity of Jesus through the resurrection. So we must not fall into the same pitfall of being so sentimental, and denying the truth that is to be upheld.
We are called to learn from St John the Evangelist, whose feast we are celebrating. He was a beloved disciple of the Lord. Surely, he loved the Lord more than anyone. Yet, he did not lose his sobriety. Even whilst running to the tomb and arriving there before Peter, he stopped outside the tomb to allow Peter, the head of the apostolic college, to enter the tomb first. He was respectful of authority. Furthermore, whilst Peter was puzzled after seeing the empty tomb, John was introspective and contemplative. The empty tomb and the linen cloth led him to enter into prayer and contemplation. He began to link this event with the whole life, ministry and passion of Christ. He sought to put all the pieces together, His teachings, His lifestyle, His miracles, especially of healing and exorcism, the multiplication of loaves, the calming of the storms, the Last Supper, etc. When he recollected all these events, he came to “see” in the fullest sense of the term.
John understood the full significance of the empty tomb and concluded that Christ was not simply raised but that He was the Son of God. This is why he wrote, “Something which has existed since the beginning, that we have heard, and we have seen with our own eyes; that we have watched and touched with our hands: the Word, who is life – this is our subject. That life was made visible: we saw it and we are giving our testimony, telling you of the eternal life which was with the Father and has been made visible to us.” Such is the wonderful realization of John. He came to faith in Christ as the Son of God not only through the visible encounters with Jesus of Nazareth but fundamentally through prayer and contemplation. We might not have encountered Jesus of Nazareth directly, but we too can arrive at this faith in His incarnation through contemplation and prayer.
Indeed, this is what we are called to do. During this period of Christmas, we are invited to enter more deeply into the mystery of the Incarnation. We still meet Jesus concretely in our daily lives through others. We meet Him in the Eucharist, in the Sacrament of reconciliation, in the kindness of our friends, through an act of mercy that someone gives to us or we give to others. So in many situations in daily life, if we only open our eyes and see beyond the events, we will see the face of the Incarnated face of Christ in all our trials, sorrows and joys of life. We can still see Jesus today if only we contemplate in faith in all the events that happen to us, just as Mary the mother of Jesus did, always pondering on the events of her life. Only then will the face of Christ appear before us.
Once we meet the Lord like Mary of Magala and John, we too will be filled with joy and go about spreading the Good News that the Lord is with us, our Emmanuel. St John wrote, “What we have seen and heard we are telling you so that you too may be in union with us, as we are in union with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing this to you to make our own joy complete.” And as we proclaim and share this joy of encountering the Lord in His humanity and in our daily lives, our joy will increase from strength to strength.
Tags: 1 Jn 1:1-4, agony in the garden, and we do not know where they put him, daughter of Jairus, December 27 2016, Jn 20:1a and 2-8, Mary Magdalene, Prayer and Meditation, Psalm 97, Rejoice in the Lord, Saint John the Apostle, Simon Peter, son of Zebedee, They have taken the Lord from the tomb, Transfiguration